To paraphrase Lord Acton, Big Government corrupts, and absolute Big Government corrupts absolutely. In the case of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty Monday to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense companies, the corruption was reported to have included Persian carpets, silver candelabras, a Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, travel and hotel expenses, use of a yacht and a lavish graduation party for his daughter.
Bribery long has been illegal, and a host of campaign “reforms,” from the post-Watergate era to the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, haven’t given America pure elections. Indeed, along with the notorious gerrymandering, these “reforms” — by making running for office a labyrinthine process shunned by ordinary citizens but loved by political operatives — have impeded democracy.
The real problem isn’t the lack of more such “reforms,” but the reason why Cunningham was offered his bribe: The federal government’s budget now is an incredible $2.6 trillion, and its regulatory reach is immense. Some special interests are going to find ways to get their mitts on that loot or try to bend those regulations, no matter how many campaign “reforms,” past or present, are imposed.
Noting the Cunningham and other congressional scandals, a Nov. 29 Washington Post analysis said that “federal prosecutors — and perhaps average voters — may be concluding that the commingling of money and politics has gone too far.”
If that results in prosecutions for actual bribery and voters “tossing the bums out,” then we’re all for it. But we hope it does not mean new calls for tax funding of campaigns or more restrictions on raising campaign cash, which we believe violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly.
Real reforms should involve three things. First, eliminate gerrymandering. Second, eliminate all campaign finance laws but require candidates to post immediately on an Internet site the amount and origin of contributions. Third, sharply reduce government to cut the sources of temptation.
To be honest, government must be transparent and small.